|A publication of the|
Central Oklahoma Classic Chevy Club.
A not-for-profit corporation.
A chapter of Bow Tie Chevys
and Classic Chevy International.
Blue dots and fuzzy dice;|
legacy of the fifties or not?
This article was taken from Fifties Flashback. Thanks to Keith Marang for supplying it.
By Albert Drake
Recently, due to the efforts of Scott Cedergreen and his rodding buddies, the state of Washington has given the OK for the use of blue-dot taillights in vehicles 40 years and older.
Although blue dots are regularly used in custom cars and street rods, they're illegal because the law in general says that cars must have only red or amber lights in back. The blue dots give taillights a purplish glow, which I suppose some motorists might find confusing.
Scott called to ask whether I knew the history of blue dots, and I had to admit that I didn't. I added that when I was a hot rodder in the 'Fifties I never had blue dots, I didn't yearn for blue dots, none of my friends had blue dots in their cars and, try as I might, I can't recall ever seeing a car in the 'Fifties with blue-dot taillights.
One evening recently I was visiting a friend and on his garage wall he had an original advertising display filled with blue-dot taillights. Called Iynx Eye replacement lenses, they were made by the Johnson Glass Company of Chicago, Illinois. The newest lens was 1939, so it's safe to assume that the display came out about that year.
The friend also recalled a radio program of the early 'Fifties, "Could This Be You?"-- a kind of docu-drama, where a Washington State policeman stopped a motorist for having blue-dot taillights on his car.
My memory gets foggy these days, so I took a look at the advertising in some 'Fifties rod and custom magazines; I could not find a single advertisement for blue dots. I looked at feature cars in those magazines and I couldn't find even one with blue dots. I began asking people who had reached the venerable age of 50 whether they had blue-dot taillights in their cars when they were growing up, and not one said he had.
A regional fad?
A couple guys who grew up in the OhioTennessee area said they'd seen cars with blue dots, so maybe it was a regional fad. One guy said he'd seen cars with blue dots, but the cars were "add-on" customs, gook wagons, with mudflaps, dual antennae and fox tails, so perhaps blue dots appealed to a certain type of car owner.
But I'd love to know how many people in the 50 to 60 age bracket actually had blue dots on their cars in the 'Fifties, where they lived and how else the car was altered. It seems to me that we've created a recent trend and attributed it to a tradition that never existed.
Ditto for fuzzy dice. Approximately 75% of the custom cars, or cars of the 'Fifties seen at a car meet today, have large, colorful fuzzy dice hanging from the inside rear view mirror. They're purely ornamental, and the reason they're there, we're told, is because this was a popular trend during the 'Fifties. Again, I could be wrong, but I don't recall anyone having fuzzy dice hanging from his mirror.
I checked out some old ads and could not find anyone selling fuzzy dice-not even places like Auto Discount, which sold fake continental kits and Bermuda bells.
At the carnival
I'm certainly willing to admit that a guy could've won a pair of dice at a game of chance on the carnival midway and hung them from his mirror, but it wasn't a common practice.
I remember people hanging air fresheners, necklaces, garters and even baby shoes from the rear view mirror, but not dice. On my mild custom '4 7 Ford in the 'Fifties I had my high-school graduation tassel hanging from the mirror, and I remember others who did the same thing.
That was far more of a trend than was the nontrend of fuzzy dice.
Another recreation of a socalled 'Fifties trend are the "flamers" seen at custom-car meets. Some custom-car owners attach a spark plug to each echo can, wire it to an electrical source and install a switch on the dash; with a rich fuel mixture and the switch on, the result is a flame that shoots out two or three feet and lasts for seconds.
Popular in Midwest
"Flamers" are especially popular in the midwest and on the east coast. Until recently, when they were banned by KKOA and others, there were flame-throwing contests; contestants would converge in an area at night, pull up to the line individually, rev the engine and emit incredible flames from the back of the car.
There was great variety, and the quality of the flames depended on the size of the exhaust pipe, exhaust extension and the amount of fuel available for burning. Some flames were anemic flickers while others were a minor inferno. judging was done by the response of the crowd that gathered to watch, and they often numbered in the hundreds.
Fascination with fire
I thought the event was great fun, and although I could see the potential for disaster I have to admit most of us seem to have a fascination for fire. But when I was told that this was a reenactment of a 'Fifties activity, I had to raise an eyebrow. I had never seen a car shoot flames before 1985, although it's easy to imagine some guy, way back when, probably hooked a Model T coil to his exhaust pipe and surprised a few pedestrians. It's a trick that doesn't require sophisticated technology.
No time for flames
But in the 'Fifties, customizers were so busy trying to get their cars closer to the pavement and then trying to get them to ride reasonably well, they didn't have time to build a flamethrower. And they would've got strange looks if they'd drilled and tapped their exhaust extensions to accept a spark plug!
Now there might've been a couple guys who had flaming exhausts on their cars in the 'Fifties, but they weren't rodders or customizers. An article in the October 21, 1951 Oregonian lauds true hot rodders and condemns cars that the public might call hot rods.
As an example of the latter, the paper ran a photo of a car spitting flame; the headline read, "Flaming exhaust frowned on by law, true hot rodders." The car is a stock 1930 Model A Ford coupe, complete with tall wire wheels.
Although the photo ran in an Oregon newspaper, the car has a California license plate; it was probably a wireservice photo. In fact, the whole deal looks like a set-up. The spark plug is held to the tailpipe by a piece of twine, which suggests that this was a one-shot deal for the photographer because after a couple flames that twine would go up in smoke. But if this photo were picked up by newspapers all over the country people might've got the idea that flame throwing was a popular fad. Perhaps from this single example came the "tradition" we celebrate today.